The Nigerian Writing System
Professor Ogunleye Shakale tells me that he teaches Aeronautics at the University of Ibadan.
The reason for the professor's confession is his strong desire for me to help him spread a layer of asphalt over the access road to his house, which is on a hill above the Salami Estate in New Bodija, especially as we approach the approaching rainy season.
Of course, I can't help Professor Shakala, but we enjoy talking, and become friends. He is a wonderful man, even if there is a doubt about the authenticity of the title of professor that he appropriates for himself.
He is well dressed, in a dark three-piece suit, with a red handkerchief stuck in his left jacket pocket. His English is excellent, thanks to the time he spent in London, according to him. He tries to speak with a British accent, without much of a success, of course.
I wonder to this day, how Professor Shakala is creeping into my office, when there is a clear instruction to the guard at the gate, not to allow entry to anyone who has not been invited, especially if he is a professor from the University of Ibadan.
But in retrospect, I'm glad the professor managed to sneak in. And that's how we exchange words and sentences in different fields, especially about Duh and Huh, but also on other topics.
Then the professor, who is an aviation expert, tells me that he has a meeting in Lagos, next week with the Honorable Federal Minister of Transport, and he suggests that I join him.
Coincidentally, I plan to be in Lagos next week, and out of curiosity I decided to go along with the Professor, since meeting the Honorable Minister is a very-very great honor. At least until you meet him.
At 9 o'clock in the morning, in the hot and steamy Lagos, I travel with the professor to Lagos Island, which is in the city of Lagos, which is in Lagos State.
From Ikeja to Lagos Island, it took us four hours. Without the normal Lagos go-slow, it takes 20 minutes, but there is no such thing as Lagos without the go-slow, just as there is no rain without clouds.
In fact, you are more likely to see rain without clouds, than you are to see Lagos without go-slow. Go-slow is a very slow ride, or simply, a traffic jam. But, traffic jam!
Upon arrival at the Ministry of Transportation, it is already 1:00 pm. The Professor introduces himself and me to the Minister's secretary, and she pleasantly show us the waiting room and say - the honorable minister is coming any moment from now!
Good news, I mutter to myself.
As usual, it's a hot and humid day, and in the waiting room of the Honorable Minister, there are 6 air conditioners. And the secretary says the air conditioners haven't been working for three years.
The floor is wet, everyone is sweating, because Lagos is located close to the equator, and that's mean that it is a hot, sweaty and humid tropical area.
At 14:00 the professor asks the secretary - have you heard from the minister yet?
So, she answers him - the Honorable Minister is coming at any moment from now!
At the ministry's waiting room, there are about 15 well respected Lagosian, discussing on different issues, and also about this and that, the kind of conversations that go alongside the walls.
No one seems to be in a hurry. One respectable Lagosian tells his neighbor that the Oyinbos (peeled people in Yoruba) know so little.
Yes - the professor tells him - but that's enough to destroy the world.
Another Lagosian says - the more we know, the more we know that we don't know and the more we know, the danger grow.
Now you can see, that waiting, at the honorable minister's waiting rooms, can be quite enlightening and perhaps more than a class in the University of Ibadan.
It is already 3 PM. The Professor is asking the secretary if she heard anything from the honorable minister.
Her name is Jibola and she insist that, we need to be patient; the honorable minister is coming any moment from now!
I went out into the corridor, to move around a bit, to keep my knuckles out of troubles, and I coincidently noticed a familiar face.
So, I mentioned to him that I have been waiting for the honorable minister of transportation for few hours now, and that Jibola, the secretary, tells us that, we need to be patient; the honorable minister is coming any moment from now!
The familiar face tells me - this is actually true in general, but I advise you to come in three days. The Honorable Minster of Transportation is currently in London.
Of course, there is no contradiction al all with what Jibola told you - say the familiar face when he noticed of my frustration. You must be patient; the honorable minister is coming any moment from now! For sure.
The Professor is staying in a small cheap hotel at Ikeja and I stay at the Guest House in Ilupeju. Patience is required here – I mumble to myself.
I use the day to see a dentist. The Nigerian dentist examines my teeth and declared, that I need seven tooth fillings.
This is unexpected for me, since I never needed a filling before and I checked my teeth before going to Nigeria and no filling was required.
I'm surprised, but a doctor is a doctor. Seven fillings!? Where this is coming from?
I decided to speak with my dentist, and he tells me - the way I know your teeth, the dentist in Nigeria must drill seven holes to have seven fillings in your mouth. After all, we need holes to make fillings.
Professor Shakale explains - the decision on the fillings' quantity have nothing to do with the condition of your teeth but depends on the Dentist's need at that day.
For example, the dentist might have some extra expenses that week. To fund the extra expenses, he needs more money and Naira.
Clearly, he must increase the number of teeth fillings of his clients.
Now, the number of fillings he needs, determine the number of holes that the dentist shall drill in your mouth. It is really so simple.
Even Oyinbo that has just recently arrived to Nigeria, should understand this simple math. After all, you need holes in your teeth, so the dentist can do the fillings. That is the system.
After various inquiries, it turned out that the Honorable Minister of Transportation shall be in his office on Tuesday.
Patience is needed, I tell myself. We are going again.
Jibula apologizes for making us wait so long.
She smiled and say - I told you he would come at any moment, didn't I?
She enters the office of the Honorable Minister and says something in Yoruba. Jibola and the Honorable Minister of Transport are from the Yoruba people. Great nation, magnificent people and wonderful culture of thousands of years.
There are approximately 35 million members of this wonderful Yoruba nation, live mainly in Nigeria but also in several other countries in West Africa.
They have an old unique tradition to speak Yoruba with each other, and it makes it difficult for me to understand the content of the conversation, since I don't speak Yoruba.
The Honorable Minister invites us in, and after the usual greetings and bows required by the state of affairs, I take my place and sit down on a nearby couch and listen to the conversation going on in the office.
Professor Shakale introduces me as a good friend from London, which should legitimize my presence.
Of course, I do not ask what they are talking about, because the honorable minister might suspect that I am interested in knowing what they are talking about, and that is might be considered a disrespect, and even impudence.
Nevertheless, occasionally they release an English translation.
The Honorable Minister of Transportation and Professor Ogunleye Shakale are discussing the unfortunate state of the Nigerian Airways, the national carrier of Nigeria.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) suspended Nigeria Airways in 1987 from the Clearing House, which made it no longer possible for "Nigeria Airways" to sell tickets of other airlines.
Several years earlier, the former minister of transport, a well-respected army officer and politician, dismissed the excellent KLM staff, after they did a good job of operating the Nigeria Airways airline and the new terminal of Murtala Muhammed International Airport, and send them back to Amsterdam.
He had two reasons for sending the Dutch team back to Holland.
First, the Nigerian crews can do just as good a job as the KLM peeled experts, and maybe even better, operating the Nigerian Airways and the new terminal.
Second, these peeled Dutch experts came from Holland, so it is simply reasonable to send them back to Holland.
And so, very quickly, the Nigerian carrier began to accumulate significant losses and debts, that outstripped its revenues, which is nothing unusual at all, except that when aircrafts belong to the Nigeria Airways landed in Europe, they were detained or impounded in Europe for unpaid debt.
This was seen as a very rude and impolite attitude of peeled Europeans, that unfortunately don't understand Nigeria at all.
In light of the shameless conduct of the peeled European, Professor Ogunleye Shakale shared his frustration with the honorable minister and blamed the peeled European for their unfair tactics.
The professor is angry and asks, how did Columbus, a renown peeled explorer, discover America, if millions of people were there many years before him?
And Columbus still thought it was India. What an ignorant!
Professor Ogunleye Shakale tells the Honorable Minister that the entire problem of the Nigeria Airways could have been saved, if there was a Nigerian writing system.
While different cultures developed different writing methods, thousands of years ago, it was to improve communication between people or between nations, but in Nigeria it was unnecessary.
Villagers in Nigeria were always capable of communicating very well with each other, and they managed very well without a writing system. They always managed to find solutions, plus, they had nothing to write about.
Later I asked the Professor why there was no writing system in Nigeria. So, he answered that there were two reasons for that; One, that they could not write, and two, that they could not read.
Prof. Ogunleye Shakale clarifies his remarks, and shared with the Honorable Minister some of his childhood memories in the village somewhere near Ogbomosho.
He reveals to the Honorable Minister that at those old days their village already had advanced technology that allowed them to fly quickly and cheaply, especially to London.
The professor elaborates on the advantages of this unique technology. There is no need for planes. No expensive and polluting fuel is required. The operating cost is very low. And above all, you don't need favors from the peeled Europeans.
The professor severely criticizes the method of the peeled Europeans, which forces us to use airplanes just for the purpose of traveling great distances.
Their technology is an inefficient, very expensive technology, forcing Nigeria to depend on the whims of the peeled people' technology.
The Honorable Minister is listening attentively. He asks the professor, how can that fantastic technology, from the village near Ogbomosho, can be implemented for the benefit of Nigeria as a whole.
Prof. Shakale take a deep breath - Honorable, that is the problem!
We didn't have writing system, so we couldn't keep record of the details and the process required for that technology.
The professor recalled an event he saw in his childhood - one of the respected elders of the village, perhaps even the chief in his own right, raised a lot of smoke from a special fire, when smoke also has special properties.
Next, in a moment, the chief disappeared within the smoke.
After a moment or two, the chief reappeared out of the smoke. Just like that.
The professor says that although he was a little boy then, he vividly remembers well the chief telling them he was in London and came back. Yes, London. Very Simple. No Wahala!
After we left the office of the Honorable Minister of Transport, Prof. Ogunleye Shakale, the aviation expert from Ibadan, tells me - it is unfortunate that we had no writing system in Ogbomosho back than to record the details of that technology for the benefit of the future generations.
Who needs these peeled people's aircrafts anyway.